Monday, September 6, 2010

Why do we allow Howard Stephenson to drive Utah's education agenda?

Here are the current bills being prepared for the 2011 Utah state legislative session on the topic of education:

10 of 19 bills are from Senator Stephenson. (These numbers will change as we get closer to the session. The 10 of 19 is as of Sep. 6, 2010.)

A quick look at the bills reveals:

2 curriculum bills,
2 charter school bills--one specifically about financing, probably taking district property taxes again,
Converting public schools to charter schools,
School "restructuring,"
Public School Accountability,
Public School Teacher Tenure Modifications,
Funding of Online Learning,
Engineering Education in Elementary and Secondary Schools

So basically, make more public school mandates--"engineering education," "accountability," messing with teacher tenure, and both curriculum bills (Is Howard Stephenson going to jump on his buddy, Oak Norton's bandwagon and demand we teach Cleon Skousen as "real" history? Oak told Howard during the March 13th Red Meat Radio broadcast that his group gave copies of The 5,000 Year Leap to the Alpine School Board as examples of appropriate curriculum material.)--while giving more of the limited pie of public education funding to charter schools and online programs that will not be subject to those same requirements. Plus dictating "restructuring" and possible conversions to charter schools.

Howard Stephenson thinks public education is socialism (Very end of post). He runs public education bills to benefit specific companies, hypocritically overriding local control and increasing the costs of public education when it's one of his pet projects. He constantly misrepresents his bills and abuses the legislative process in order to pass controversial provisions with little or no scrutiny: 2008 (plus an ongoing $190,000 annual expenditure of education funds just to spite an employee of the State Office of Education who ran against Greg Hughes at the county Republican convention. Seriously.), 2009, 2010. He is unabashedly conflicted as a paid corporate lobbyist--he is the only legislator whose entire livelihood depends on the issues he supports and how he votes on those issues. Combining his last two issues--he literally ran a bill in 2010 authorizing conflicts of interest for charter school board members as a sneaky provision in a larger charter school bill.

Senator Stephenson is on all public education interim and Senate committees in the state of Utah and is literally the sponsor of half of the education bills for 2011. I believe all claims by the legislature that their ethical safeguards are sufficient can never be taken seriously while this well-paid corporate shill is allowed to not just hold public office, but be one of the leading policy makers in the legislature. I also believe Howard Stephenson would be voted out of office in a heartbeat if the public paid attention, but unfortunately they don't and he'll probably be voted in for 4 more years of self-interest come November.


Monday, August 23, 2010

Parents for Choice in Education hosts luncheon for "education stakeholders"...except for anyone who works at a school

PCE has been sending out email for the last month recruiting a crowd for a luncheon with Jeb Bush and Governor Herbert about public school accountability and Bush's "school grade" project in Florida. They have included a lot of lines like:
As Stakeholders in education, it is imperative that you participate in the discussion on how Utah can and will overcome our unique educational challenges and emerge as a strong leader in a 21st century global economy.
The luncheon would at least be interesting. Whenever Howard Stephenson is full-heartedly behind an education measure, I cast a very cynical eye on the proposal, but I would like to hear how the school grades are measured and who decided on that measurement.

Unfortunately, the luncheon was planned on August 24th, right smack in the middle of the first week of school. Granite, Canyons, and Davis Districts all started classes today; Provo and Nebo Districts start tomorrow (the 24th); and Alpine, Salt Lake, and Jordan Districts all start in the 2 days after that. That means school staff members--teachers, administration, and support staff--are already required to be working at school, often welcoming incoming secondary students a day early.

When PCE talks about inviting stakeholders, they actually mean those ideologically in line with their thinking. (Especially rich ideologues. There are sponsorships available in the emails: Event $5000 Banner $2500 Table $1000.) Teachers and public school employees are regarded as the "enemy" to actually be avoided in education policy debates. It goes along with the rhetoric from many in the legislature. I tuned in to the first hour of Red Meat Radio last Saturday, and Judi Clark from PCE was co-hosting the show with Greg Hughes. I didn't write this down word for word, but Hughes opened up the show saying something close to "We're the good guys. The ones on our side, on the parents side." Then he contrasted his show and PCE to the evil UEA, supposedly not on the parents' side.

The ultra rightwing folks in the legislature and PCE must know teachers in their neighborhoods--the normal people with families and children who far outnumber the legislature's families in their personal stake in the quality of the school system--yet to hear them talk, the union is a bunch of selfish, childless atheists who "control" education and hate students. And I think they actually believe their own false created image which is repeated back to them in their policy echo chambers. They don't comprehend that the general public trusts teachers much more than politicians, but the political apathy of society in general lets them get away with their destructive attitudes.

So to sum, I think you can still attend the luncheon with Jeb Bush tomorrow at the SLC Marriott for 20 bucks if you don't want to pony up the 1000 dollars to be a table sponsor. Check it out, evaluate the information presented, notice who is attending, and listen to the language and underlying assumptions and disdain for teachers and public education in general. These people don't represent us.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Harassment of ethics petition gatherers in Utah County and an old story from Washington County about Dave Clark abusing authority

An elderly couple from Salt Lake County has been working hard to gather signatures for the Utahns for Ethical Government initiative petition since last year. They worked many hours personally and helped organize others in their Senate District, achieving the necessary number of signatures in that district some time ago. In all that time and after speaking to hundreds of people, they had some polite disagreements, but no bad experiences with anyone.

This afternoon, they volunteered to drive to Utah County to help in the last county where the initiative needs enough signatures to qualify. The couple knocked on doors in northern Utah County very successfully for a few hours. The wife was discussing the initiative in Pleasant Grove with a man on the sidewalk who had a pen in his hand to sign the petition. Another man pulled up in his car, rolled down his window, and began loudly yelling to not sign the petition. The woman gathering signatures didn't catch everything he said, but the man was apparently repeating the unique Utah County Republican Party lie that the initiative restricts local Mormon leaders such as bishops and Relief Society presidents from serving in the legislature. The woman had not ever heard this argument in Salt Lake County and tried to tell both men it wasn't true. The man about to sign quietly told the woman that he didn't want to anger his neighbor and walked away without signing. The woman started down the street to knock on more doors, but the man in the car followed her, continuing to yell arguments about the initiative, and calling her "evil." The woman rejoined her husband and they were both shaken by the man in the car continuing to harass them. He didn't stop until they finally got in their car and drove away.

I think the incident speaks for itself.

Another interesting incident happened in Washington County back on April 15th when Utahns for Ethical Government volunteers were turning in signatures in an attempt to qualify in time for this year's ballot. Remember, the legislature had also recently passed the openly biased SB 275, allowing them to track down signature signers for an extra month and pressure them to remove their names from the petition. Carmen Snow walked into the Washington County Clerk's office that afternoon with a stack of petition booklets. Speaker of the House, Dave Clark, was behind the counter at the County Clerk's office as the employees accepted the submission of the petition booklets, just waiting to get hold of those names and start tracking them down. As I recall, the temporary injunction barring the names of the signers from being released was issued that afternoon, but UEG still does not know if Dave Clark got copies of those names before word reached Washington County.

The legislators want to us to believe they never abuse their power, but why was this non-county employee in the work space at the county office? Does anyone believe that "ordinary" citizens are allowed behind the counter at government offices when it is convenient to them?

I heard both of these stories secondhand from others who had spoken directly with the people involved.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Local educational software company gets statewide contract AFTER making $12,000 in campaign donations in 2009

There was a nice article on KSL a few weeks ago about Imagine Learning software helping non-English speaking students learn the language. It's not a rigorous piece with one school's personnel and a company representative giving a glowing review of the program. But notice the small paragraph near the bottom:
Utah lawmakers funded a statewide license for this program, so any Utah school can address this growing need without hurting its budget.
Now I am not commenting on the effectiveness of this program. I have no experience with it and hope it is truly awesome. I often work with students learning English and any effective tool would be great.

However, I am concerned with the process. Why did this software company get a "statewide license?" This generally means any school in the state can sign up for the program and the state budget will cover the individual licenses, so basically a no-limit contract. How much is each individual student license? How many schools with how many eligible students have signed up? When was this passed? If it was in the 2010 session, I didn't hear anything about it and I followed the education budget debates closely. There have been crushing debates for two years in a row as the recession has killed public education budgets. The cuts have gotten deeper, class sizes are going up while other services are getting axed, and the projections for next year are for even more cuts. Legislators, schools, and the public debated about which "pet projects" and programs to fund and which to get rid of. Music, art, busses, science programs, merit pay plans, pension cuts, etc. have all been part of the debate.

I think that debate is legitimate and necessary in the rough economic climate. I just wonder if Imagine Learning was part of that debate or just slipped in somewhere. I have searched the three base education funding bills from the 2010 session, SB 2, HB 1, and HB 4, and I can find no mention of funding for Imagine Learning or English language software.

Making the matter even more murky are the large campaign contributions made in 2009 by Imagine Learning to key legislative leaders, especially conservative leaders. The August financial disclosure for 2009 showed donations to Senate President Michael Waddoups and Merlynn Newbold, education base budget sponsor and common co-sponsor of Howard Stephenson's bills. Imagine Learning's year-end financial disclosure for 2009 revealed donations to heavyweights: Greg Hughes of the House Education committee, Ron Bigelow--Chair of the Executive Appropriations Committee, $1,000 to Howard Stephenson--member of the Senate Education Committee and 2 interim education committees (and influential lobbyist), and $5,000 to Gary Herbert.

At the very, very least, this creates the perception of "Pay to Play." Make donations to the right people--maybe conservative lawmakers who usually oppose funding to education programs they are not personally sponsoring--and get a lucrative, statewide contract. That perception is real whether Imagine Learning is a wonderful program or a sham.

The donations are large and uncommon in the industry. I scanned the entire list of corporations that filed state financial disclosures for 2009 and didn't see any other company selling educational material--correct me if I'm wrong. (And for fun, go through the list and look at the donations from your favorite or least favorite company. The nearly $300,000 spent by Energy Solutions on both parties in 2008 and 2009 is especially impressive. All these corporations are spending tens and hundreds of thousands of dollars because of their civic mindedness, not because they expect anything from the legislators. Right ethics reform opponents?)

Really, does anyone think Red Meat Radio Howard Stephenson would support funding a statewide, educational software contract in a terrible budget year if these donations were not made? The bright minds at Imagine Learning spent $12,000 in profits without expecting influence and return on investment? It's a happy coincidence that the last educational software program to heavily lobby the legislature also got a large contract directly from Howard Stephenson in 2008?


Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Answer to previous post: Very blatantly. The committee illegally voted in secret to avoid scrutiny of the lockstep lobbyist block voting

Once again, I manage to be shocked at how openly political insiders and lobbyists hold the public in contempt.

Here is a link to the official page at the state website of the State Board Of Education Nominating And Recruiting Committee. (Link to separate post listing information as currently posted, for use when the committee or law change in the future.)

These twelve people get to vote and eliminate candidates from the ballot in the non-partisan races for the State Board of Education. In all other cases in the state, political parties may hold caucuses and conventions to winnow down official nominees from their private organizations, but any citizen is free to run for office independently. No other public political office that I know of is forbidden to members of the public unless approved by a screening committee--a screening committee by statute made up of 50% industry interests that submit names to be appointed by the governor. What if the Orem City mayor appointed a committee that questioned citizens of the city and only allowed those approved by the committee to run in the non-partisan races for city council? How many seconds until that process would be abused?

So the entire process assumes that the governor can appoint 12 people that can better decide on elected officials than the public. Today, an incumbent was eliminated and Kim Burningham--the former board chair and anti-voucher champion--managed to continue in the process "because he tied with two other hopefuls for getting the third-most committee votes for the District 5 seat." I want to see the votes to confirm my contention that these nominated lobbyists--who regularly support, seek support from, and intermingle with the Republican leadership--are voting en masse based on ideology.

But the nominating committee, a public body paid per diem for their duties, openly tried to shield itself from public accountability during its vote on Wednesday--it gave itself permission to vote secretly. A lawyer from the governor's office informed the committee that they had to put their names on the ballots, so they did that, but wouldn't show the public or the press who voted for who. Stan Lockhart, Micron lobbyist, husband of Republican House Whip Becky Lockhart, and the head of the state Republican Party when the voucher law was passed in 2007, is somehow supposed to represent the good of the voting public and is the person who suggested the secret ballot. I have underlined many of the weak justifications for a secret vote in the two articles below.

A quick run-down of the six "industry representatives":

Stan Lockhart -- Micron lobbyist and Republican partisan as outlined above
Tom Bingham -- President of the Utah Mining Association (I suspect most of this list has ties to the Utah Taxpayer's Association, but I know Kennecott is a high-paying client of Howard Stephenson's.)
Leland Hogan -- President of the Utah Farm Bureau
Chris Sloan -- 2009 President of the Utah Association of Realtors, the single most influential lobbying group in the state, current Chair of The Tooele County Republican Party
Richard Thorn -- The President of the Associated General Contractors of Utah
Jan Wells -- "Representing public utilities." I couldn't figure out who she was among several Jan Wells involved in Utah politics.

Do you see a pattern here? The "organizations representing each of the respective sectors" nominate their presidents/spokesmen/lobbyists and the governor appoints them. Past and present officials of the Republican Party are disproportionately represented. Does anyone not directly involved with these organizations feel these committee members adequately represent the public's interest in the governance of the public school system? I personally do not feel any teacher can represent me in terms of choosing who is qualified to receive my vote.

Natalie commented on my previous post that she believes Governor Herbert will be more thoughtful than governor Huntsman was narrowing the 3 candidates in each district (apparently 5 in Kim Burningham's district) down to 2 to appear on the ballot in November. I actually agree with her and was happy to read in the Trib article below that the governor supports changing the system. I urge Governor Herbert to give the public the chance to vote on Kim Burningham's retention on the State Board of Education and to speak out forcefully in support of primary elections for all candidates who wish to run. The committee could continue its candidate recruiting role as long as it's done in some sort of objective fashion, although I don't know that I see the need.

Here are the Deseret News and Tribune articles about what happened yesterday. I have underlined some of the text to emphasize it. My comments will be italicized in brackets.
The Deseret News article:

Governor's education commission opts for secret vote
Published: Wednesday, May 19, 2010 9:11 p.m. MDT

SALT LAKE CITY — Controversy is not a new thing for the governor's commission tasked with choosing candidates for the State Board of Education, and Wednesday night was no different when the committee opted for a secret ballot in the selection process.

The 12-person committee interviewed 29 candidates Monday with the names planned to be announced at 4 p.m. Wednesday. However, after almost an hour of debate, the commission decided to choose their nominations via secret ballot — an act which several commission members spoke out against, arguing that transparency is important in narrowing down the candidate pool. The State Board approves curriculum and policy for all the students and school districts statewide.

The commission is to choose a minimum of three candidates per district to forward to the governor who then whittles it down to two names for the November 2010 ballot. Districts in which there are three or fewer candidates are generally automatically forwarded to the governor.

The secret ballot procedure was the idea of Stan Lockhart, a commission member representing the technology field. Lockhart, who chaired the commission in 2004, said he was simply following previous procedure which abides by state law.

"It follows the law, and it follows precedent of what this committee has done in the past," Lockhart said.
[Lockhart claims this public body has voted secretly in the past. I only have direct knowledge of 2008. The voting was done publicly, at least at the meeting, and then put online by the Accountability Blog with commentary. I have not been able to find an official online record of those votes or past years. Can anyone help us out? Were past commission votes also done secretly? If they were public, are there any accessible records of those votes?]

Committee co-chairwoman Gayleen Gandy, a member of the Granite School Board, spoke against doing a secret ballot, saying it flies in the face of how political bodies should do business. "We are a public body," Gandy said. "We should be responsible for our votes."

Commission member Leland Hogan said he wanted a secret ballot so the public and news media couldn't ask about the members' choices.

Hogan said the commission needs to "keep integrity in the system. If you do not have a secret ballot, you won't be able to get anybody to serve on this committee again."

Without the secret ballot, Hogan said, commission members' choices "will be publicized — and that's not what this is all about. It's about giving names to the governor which will make the school system in Utah better."
[I as a person have failings...but how do you respect a comment like this? Seriously. I don't believe Hogan, the president of the Utah Farm Bureau Federation, would be OK with his city council making secret votes "just to make the city better." Or how about an appointed public lands commission making land use decisions affecting grazing via secret ballot "just to make the the land use system in Utah better?" This is blatant hypocrisy Mr. Hogan.]

The commission members debated the Utah Open and Public Meetings Act, some disputing that the commission constitutes a public body. The commission then voted to do a secret ballot and went into a closed session for an hour to discuss the candidates.

The commission then opened the meeting and proceeded with the secret ballot, writing their choices on pieces of paper to be tallied by the commission secretary.

Utah media attorney Jeff Hunt told the Desert News Wednesday night the law is clear that under the Utah Open Meetings Act, "secret voting is not allowed." Hunt added that the governor's commission is definitely considered a public body and "clearly covered under the Open Meetings Act."

Cheryl Phipps, State PTA Legislative vice president, who served two terms on the commission in previous years, said she believes the commission itself is "ridiculous." The voters need to be choosing who should be on the November ballot, she said. "Why don't we trust the voters?" Phipps said.



State Board of Education nominees

The governor’s commission nominated the following candidates Wednesday:

District 2 (Weber County area) Keith Buswell, Richard Favero, Monty Hardy

District 3 (Utah County area): Craig Coleman (incumbent), Burtis Bills, Clark Turner

District 5 (Davis County area): Nicole Toomey Davis, Diane Smith Cales, and tied, Ruland Gill, Lawrence Wright and Kim Burningham (incumbent)

District 6 (Northwest Salt Lake County area) Hank Bertoch, John Hohlbauch and Michael Jensen, (incumbent);

District 9 (Southwest Salt Lake County area): Joel Coleman, Milton Witt, Daniel Isham

District 10 (Murray area) Laurel Brown (incumbent);

District 14 (Eastern Utah): Dixie Allen (incumbent), Johny Thayne, Michael Miles

District 15 (Southern Utah) Tom Jett, Debra Roberts (incumbent) and Paul Terry.

© 2010 Deseret News Publishing Company | All rights reserved

And the Tribune article:

Committee ousts state school board incumbent

By Lisa Schencker

The Salt Lake Tribune
Updated: 05/19/2010 09:20:11 PM MDT

A governor-appointed committee ousted a state school board incumbent Wednesday evening, and the group did it by secret ballot.

The 12-member committee voted by secret ballot not to forward Denis Morrill's name to the governor for consideration to appear on the November ballot for a District 9 seat. Morrill, an attorney and businessman who has served on the board for 10 years, said Wednesday evening he wasn't surprised he lost his seat given the process.

"Those are basically charter school people on that committee, and they don't like me," Morrill said, explaining that he has been critical of charter schools in the past because he doesn't believe the state can "afford two school systems." "Experience isn't what they want. What they want is someone they can control."

He called the process by which state board candidates have to run for office "absolutely absurd from start to finish."

It's a process many say takes choice out of the public's hands, while others say it's the best way to get qualified people into office. Every two years when roughly half the state board seats open, the governor appoints a 12-member committee representing various education and business/industry interests to help recruit and narrow the field of candidates. The committee must choose at least three candidates for each seat to forward to the governor, who then chooses two candidates for each seat to appear on the ballot.

And this time, the group decided early in the meeting Wednesday to vote by secret ballot. But John Pearce, general counsel for the governor, later conveyed to them that they would have to write their names on the ballots. The Utah Open and Public Meetings Act requires minutes of open meetings contain, "a record, by individual member, of each vote taken by the public body," and the committee is required to vote in public.

The committee, however, refused to show those records of who voted for whom to The Salt Lake Tribune on Wednesday evening. Christine Kearl, the governor's education director, said members of the public will have to make formal open records request to see that information. Utah law indicates that, "Written minutes that have been prepared in a form awaiting only formal approval by the public body are a public record" and that "Written minutes shall be available to the public within a reasonable time after the end of the meeting."

The committee voted 9-2, by secret ballot, to vote for candidates by secret ballot. One member of the committee didn't vote on the issue.

Stan Lockhart, a committee member and former chairman of the Utah GOP, said he wanted the ballots to be secret because that's the way the committee had voted in the past. Committee co-chair and realtor Chris Sloan said he also believed that was the best way to go.

"That part of the process is something that goes back to the founding of our country" Sloan said. "The ability for someone to be able to express their vote unfettered is sacred."

[The comparison is ridiculous. Public officals--whether elected or appointed--being accountable to the public goes back to the founding of our country. Comparing those votes to our individual votes in the ballot booth is misleading. If public officials could vote in secret, that would take away the sacred ability of citizens to vote on their representation.]

"Some of us know some of the individuals in contention," Sloan added. "Our ability to either make or continue friendships and relationships shouldn't be a part of this thing."
[You volunteered or accepted your organization's and the governor's nomination to this undemocratic committee. The public's right to transparently see your influence on the candidate selection outweighs your desire to not feel uncomfortable. I believe you would raise hell if an appointed body dominated by Democrats tried to make their votes secret.]

Committee co-chair and Granite School Board vice president Gayleen Gandy, however, vehemently objected to the secret ballot.

"I believe we ought to be responsible for the names we put forward, and I believe that ought to be open and public," Gandy said.

Jeff Hunt, a Salt Lake First Amendment and media lawyer, said the Open and Public Meetings Act is pretty clear in prohibiting secret ballots.

"There still needs to be some accountability to the public, whether you're elected or not, if you're selected for a public body and doing the public's business," Hunt said. And Hunt said he doesn't see why the records of who voted for whom were not released publicly Wednesday night.

"I don't see any purpose in making the public or reporters wait five days to respond to a GRAMA [an open records request] to get information they should have been able to get just watching the open meeting and seeing people vote openly," he said.

Kim Burningham, a state board incumbent, called the secret balloting "ridiculous." The committee voted Wednesday to forward Burningham's name on to the governor because he tied with two other hopefuls for getting the third-most committee votes for the District 5 seat.

But Burningham said the whole process needs to change.

"I just think it all boils down to do you really want a highly charged political process to make the decision of who the public gets to vote on or should the public decide themselves? Clearly, the public should decide themselves," Burningham said.

During the process two years ago, the committee ousted two incumbents, including the then-state board chair.

Gov. Gary Herbert also would like to see the process changed, Kearl said.

Proponents of the process, however, say it's a way to make sure qualified people serve on the state board despite what can be a low-profile race. Before the mid-1990s, state board members were elected directly. But that, some say, led to even less interest in races than now and the election of unqualified board members.

Burningham called it "most unfortunate for an extremely competent, experienced member of the school board to be eliminated."

Morrill was beat by three other hopefuls, including two charter school founding board members and a young school custodian who wondered during a recent interview if districts could look at legal documentation of students as a way to reduce class sizes.

Gandy said she voted to forward all incumbents to the governor because she feels they should be held accountable by their constituents, not the committee. Sloan, however, said he voted not to advance Morrill because during the committee interviews Monday, "he touched on a lot of issues important to me but without the depth that gave me the confidence to support him."

Sloan said he didn't give preference to incumbents, instead voting only for those candidates he thought most fit.
[Most fit for what?? And decided by who?]

Five other incumbents including Dixie Allen, Craig Coleman, Michael Jensen, Laurel Brown and Debra Roberts will have their names forwarded on to the governor, either because they earned committee votes or because no more than two people filed to run against them.

How blatantly will the State Board of Education Nominating Committee thumb its nose at the public? Or will Kim Burningham get his today?

I don't have time for much. Utah Mom's Care had an excellent post on this a few days ago. The results of Monday's meeting and vote will be announced this afternoon.

Basically, Republican leadership can't keep it's theories straight on their opinions of Utah voters. In the case of the state school board, they're too stupid to vote unless there is an R(epublican) or D(emocrat) next to the name of a candidate, so we have to appoint a committee literally half made up of lobbyists (all the industry "rep's" are lobbyists appointed by the governor--people like Stan Lockhart, Micron lobbyist and head of the state GOP when they passed vouchers) to remove "unworthy" candidates from the ballot. In the case of vouchers, the public rejected them almost 2-1 because they were misinformed by evil teachers.

But when the ethics reform initiative didn't get enough signatures, that was because Utah voters are so smart and approved of the legislature's already passed reform. I think as the Utah Mom's Care post said--voter apathy enables this ridiculous, easily abused system. And in the last days of the ethics petition drive, there were still more people than not that had not heard of the initiative.

Here's an opinion piece by two Republican activists spelling out how the public is too dumb to vote without party affiliation, and the Tribune Editorial rightly stating that this system actually takes advantage of voter apathy for political gain rather than doing anything to make the final election between the chosen candidates more informed.

Sara Brate at the Accountability blog covered this bad process two years ago. Most revealingly, she put the candidate vote totals in an excel sheet for all to see. Notice that industry voter block that pushed the agenda. There were two incumbents pushed out by the vote of 6 people and shenanigans in my state school board district.

So Kim Burningham effectively represented the overwhelming majority of both Utahns and his district in the anti-voucher battle, infuriating Republican leadership. He fought hard on the ethics initiative, once again battling for things large majorities of Utahns want, but legislative and political party leadership abhor. Will he be taken off the ballot by 6 lobbyists? If so, I predict a short period of outrage from observers, and then no consequences. If only 2 legislators got taken out after the voucher debacle, and the bill to change this process couldn't get traction the last 2 years, nothing will happen now.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Utah County Convention coming, mail and now packets of paper pouring in -- HB 150 is unconstitutional and overreaching

The county convention is Saturday and the county wide races are being hotly contended. I haven't had as much time to research as I would wish, so I am still working on what to do with assessor, auditor, etc., but I've got a pretty good feel of where I'm going with the two county commissioner spots and county sheriff. I tend to cast a favorable eye toward challengers, favoring term limits and non-career politicians, but I am leaning toward 2 of 3 incumbents in those races. The challengers are either less qualified or too arrogant and partisan for me to vote for.

I have received lots of email and postcards--5 or 6 color cards just today--and then tonight, a whole packet of papers delivered to my house with a collection of articles about the Brad Daw vs. Calvin Harper race for House representative. There were copies of 12 newspaper articles/blog posts criticizing Daw's HB 150. These were hand-annotated and highlighted in red marker. Impressive effort if all the county delegates are receiving this.

I heartily agree with the criticism of HB 150. Court review of forced searches is crucial. Rep. Daw keeps pulling out "The fed's have been doing this for 20 years and always had it upheld in court" defense, but that seems kind of hypocritical for a member of the Patrick Henry Caucus. I have not heard Rep. Daw or any attorney general give one instance of a child safety case being jeopardized by having to get a judge's approval before obtaining internet information. If the process is too slow, work on improving the process to obtain a warrant--don't bypass it. The very legitimate "slippery slope" argument in this case is augmented by Rep. Daw's original version of HB 150 allowing administrative subpoenas for any "criminal activity" using a computer. The bill was amended on Feb. 23rd or 25th to apply "only" to felony charges. It failed a House floor vote. The bill was substituted Feb. 26th to now allow government lawyers to obtain internet information without a warrant in the cases of child kidnapping and "an offense of stalking under Section 76-5-106.5." (Line 71 of the substitute bill at the link above) It now passed another floor vote and later a Senate floor vote, but interestingly, it split the Patrick Henry Caucus.

Also, if it is up to just a city, county, or state attorney's discretion, what happens when the stalking ordinance referenced in the law is applied politically? Mark Shurtleff may be the most egregiously political government lawyer, but administrative subpoenas are ripe for abuse because of politics or personalities at all levels they are permitted. Can you imagine if Lohra Miller (Salt Lake County district attorney) and that other guy in her office that have been publicly suing and attacking each other in the press for a couple years could get the other's internet information via an administrative subpoena obtained at their discretion? The particular stalking ordinance given administrative subpoena power was recently beefed up to give prosecutors extremely wide latitude in what constitutes stalking. Read some excerpts from Section 76-5-106.5 of Utah Code. The person could be charged if they violate the following conditions:
(b) "Course of conduct" means two or more acts directed at or toward a specific person, including: (i) acts in which the actor follows, monitors, observes, photographs, surveils, threatens, or communicates to or about a person, or interferes with a person's property:

(F) uses a computer, the Internet, text messaging, or any other electronic means to commit an act that is a part of the course of conduct.
And this broad standard, communicating "about a person" on the Internet in a manner that would cause them "emotional distress" [(2)(b) in code], can now be used to get the internet information, including credit card information, of any internet poster a politically motivated government attorney deems to cause his/her buddies distress...without a judicially reviewed warrant." That's wrong.

There was only one item in the anti-Daw packet about something besides HB 150. It was a copy of the executive summary of Daw's 2007 HB 141 and a paper comparing it to "Obamacare" because it mandated catastrophic health insurance coverage. This was pretty dumb in my opinion. I do not support health insurance mandates, but much of the partisan opposition to them blithely ignores that they were a Republican idea to try and protect the market in the face of government mandates. I don't support Bob Bennett either , but his acknowledging the huge financial problems in healthcare and fiddling with possible solutions in his bill are not the reasons I won't vote for him (unless he ends up facing Cherilyn Eagar in a primary). So in this instance, one could ding Rep. Daw and many on the right for opposing ideas based on who proposed them rather than their merits, but this guilt by association doesn't fly with me. I've got other, more legitimate reasons to vote against Brad Daw.

I'll probably post again about these county races before Saturday, and possibly some more Daw/Harper comparisons if anyone is interested. (Well, very possibly if no one is interested too.) =)


Thursday, April 15, 2010

The UEG's attempt to keep the initiative signers anonymous reveals the true injustice of SB 275, the extended time period for opponents

The Utahns for Ethical Government organization and its lawyers are trying to prevent initiative opponents from learning the names of those who signed and then badgering them to remove their names. I agree that it will be inconvenient for some of them (The Utah County Republican Party plans to distribute flyers claiming the initiative is anti-LDS.), but I think the names should be public. Otherwise, it won't be possible to verify that true signatures were gathered. I know I wouldn't want to have to just trust the county clerk. I'll even agree with Howard Stephenson that the initiative backers are worried they won't reach the high numerical thresholds for signatures. (I predict that both the ethics and Fair Boundaries initiatives will fall just short in paper signatures and the battle will move to the certification of e-signatures. Even that may end up being a moot point due to the requirement to get 10% of the voters in 26 of the 29 State Senate Districts. The petitions could hit the 95,000 total required with the online signatures, but be a little behind in too many of the specific districts.)

However, I also agree with one small aspect of Carl Wimmer's blast at the end of the Tribune article:
Rep. Carl Wimmer, R-Herriman, co-sponsored the bill that streamlined signature removal. On Wednesday he had harsh criticism for the initiative backers and their lawsuit.

"This is Chicago-style politics at its worst," Wimmer said, "and precisely what you can expect from an organization that is trying to usurp the rights of the voters and the republican form of government in our state."

"The public should have a right to know who is attempting to change law," Wimmer said. "There's no difference between who signed a petition and how a legislator voted."
I think it is revealing that Rep. Wimmer thinks citizen initiatives "usurp the rights" of voters, but that's not my main point. It's Wimmer's last comment, that the signers' signatures are like legislators' votes. This comparison probably doesn't hold 100% true, but in this case, it represents the public's right, protected by the State Constitution Article VI, to initiate legislation.

Rep. Wimmer continually argued this bill was making things more fair and more just for signature removals. I agree that allowing easier removal not requiring a notary was fair, but allowing initiative opponents to access the names of signers and target them for one extra month was a transparent "power grab," to use the language of opponents, grabbing power from the people by eliminating months of work by taking a few names off a petition in one Senate District. It is hypocritical and unfair, and I honestly don't believe that Rep. Wimmer truly believes his own words from the House presentation.

The House Floor debate is kind of long, but sadly interesting. Here's the link. You have to scroll down halfway through Part 1 to SB0275S02 and you can either listen or watch the debate. I watched the video on RealPlayer. You have to first fast forward through a 40 second procedural deal first. Then the video resets to the 42 minute floor debate and vote. In his bill introduction, Rep. Wimmer talks about removing the notary requirement, but conveniently does not mention the extended month for opponents to remove signatures with no ability for proponents to add signatures, nor the fact that this bill differs from 95%+ bills and takes effect immediately. He also said the initiative signature gatherers are likely deceiving people and not giving them all the information. This claim was repeated by Rep's Gibson, Morley, and Hughes.

All of the debate is revealing, but at about 9:20 Rep. King proposes an amendment moving deadlines for both signing and removing names to April 15th. Rep. Wimmer really tries to stretch the truth in his rebuttal, claiming the rights of those who sign late in the process are taken away, and so it's fair to have the month of time just for removals. Rep. McIff, who ended up voting for the bill, makes the best comments starting at the 13:00 minute mark. Listen--it's only 2 minutes. He explains indisputably why this bill unbalances the rights of initiative proponents in favor of initiative opponents. (He doesn't mention that initiative opponents will almost always be incumbent legislators.) In my opinion, his points put to shame Wimmer's silly arguments. The vote on the amendment takes place at about 17:00. It failed by a 34 to 38 margin. (The final vote was 50-24 in favor of the bill, showing that a number of Representatives thought removing the notary requirements was a good idea while opposing the extra month of time.) This is voting material for me as my Rep. voted against the amendment and for the bill.

One final high(low)light: Rep. Kerry Gibson gives a long, rambling series of questions and a speech at 19:00. California is baaaad. Any initiative will turn us into California. California...Booooo...Blah, blah. He attacks the same strawman as Wimmer, focusing on deceptive signature gatherers and how his wife might illegally sign his name to a petition. Rep. Gibson also states that he opposes any citizen initiatives. I think this says out loud what many legislators are thinking. At 24 minutes, he justifies the extra month by comparing the signatures to committee hearings or bill co-signers rather than votes. I didn't know him as more than a name before--this makes me glad he's leaving the legislature, but possibly sorry for Weber County if he wins his County Commissioner race.

I think Rep. Gibson's comparison is wrong. The signatures gathered are the public's right to put a law on the public ballot, exactly like the legislators' right to vote to put their version of an ethics commission on the ballot this November. The extra time extended in SB 275 is the equivalent of allowing opponents of that commission or of bills passed on the last day of the session to persuade/inform/manipulate/bully for one month after the session ends, and any bill that loses support retroactively doesn't pass. It's unfair. It's bad process. It's wrong. Legislators would never allow such an affront to their prerogative. But despite Wimmer's admission that the state constitution is right and we do get to "vote" via signature to put measures on the ballot, the legislature doesn't actually respect the voice of the citizens or the "plain language" of the State Constitution giving us equal legislative power to place bills on the ballot.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Two reasons to sign the ethics initiative on the last day, April 15th

Two reasons:

1. In current Utah law and practice, lobbyists can be legislators.

This really shocks 90% of people I talk to along with the fact that a senator representing Utah Valley is currently both a lobbyist and a state senator. As they ask for more info, I tell them that Howard Stephenson is one of the most influential policy makers in our state, and his "taxpayers association" is really a 4-employee lobbying firm with a secret list of business clients. Stephenson's sole basis for employment is his effectiveness in achieving legislation favorable to his clients. If he votes the "wrong" way or does not push bills his clients favor, he will be fired. This is not the normal and inherent bias of a citizen legislature, but basically a man paid for his votes. Worse, since the Utah Taxpayers Association's clients are secret, you never know on a given bill whether Stephenson is being employed to vote a certain way. He cannot be objective or risk his livelihood. How can it be interpreted any differently? Recent reform bills did nothing about this practice.

2. The latest ethics reform bills passed by the legislature will not only fail to stop the vast majority of the lobbyist money coming in, but new loopholes would allow half of it to go unreported if spending spending patterns remain similar.

Bernick's analysis in the Deseret News of lobbyist gifts and meals this year reveals the distinct lack of reform.
"Despite Utah legislators' claim that they took large steps in lobbyist gift-giving reforms this year, a Deseret News analysis of new lobbyist disclosure reports finds that a new reform bill they passed would ban just $1,100 of the $71,700 spent on lawmakers so far this year...

However, the newspaper also found if the lobbyist gift-ban restrictions found in a citizen initiative petition were in effect, 99 percent of the gifts given to legislators in January, February and March of this year would not have been allowed."

The purposeful loopholes in the law just passed are even worse:
Meals costing more than $10 must come with the accepting lawmaker's name attached, unless large groups of legislators are invited. If the whole Legislature, the House or Senate, a legislative committee or a party caucus are all invited to the meal, then that expense is exempted, no matter how many actually attend. In fact, the all-invited expense will no longer even be reported by the giving lobbyist, as is the case under the old lobbyist law. Gone from the public record will be how much was spent by this or that special interest group hosting a meal for an identifiable number of legislators, no matter what that expense may be.

In the first three months of this year, $35,168 — nearly half of all gift-giving that was reported, the newspaper found — went for meals where all members or some caucuses were invited, an amount that won't be seen in future lobbyist reports.

In addition, in the 29-member Senate, the president can authorize lobbyist-paid-for trips and expenses for a senator of either political party, and that lobbyist expense won't be reported, either, under the new law. The speaker of the House also may give such a trip exemption for any representative, but by internal House rule (which was not adopted by the Senate), the speaker must disclose that expenditure and the representative who took it in a timely manner.

Bernick explains that gift giving is down 20% from last year's 1st quarter, but I have difficulty praising the legislature for accepting "only" $71,000 of gifts in a three month period rather than $89,000.

The legislators can take offense and (falsely) call the proposed restrictions and independent commission a "power grab" all they want, but that doesn't change these numbers. The state legislature wants us to believe that the vaunted free market they value so much is spending tens of thousands of dollars in just a 3 month period to accomplish nothing; these firms and special interests are so blind to their own interest that they just throw this money away without making a profit on the expenditure; and Howard Stephenson has been employed for the last few decades to not influence the incorruptible legislature. Think about that premise and either find a last minute petition to sign, or go online and sign electronically as that battle rev's up. Here are the links to the Utahns for Ethical Government initiative and also the Fair Boundaries initiative.


Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Revealing conversation while gathering initiative signatures

One afternoon, I was gathering signatures for both the Utahns for Ethical Government initiative and the Fair Boundaries initiative. I ran into two professionally dressed people wearing real estate nametags. I explained the Fair Boundaries petition to polite interest and nods, and then I started explaining the ethics petition.

"If this were to pass, next year state legislators could not take any gifts from lobbyists, period. Including meals."

One of their eyes lit up and the person said "I'll sign that" while grabbing a pen. I continued to explain that it would prevent a person from being a lobbyist while serving in the legislature and that one of our state senators representing Utah Valley is a lobbyist. They nodded and grinned. But as the person started to print their name, they paused.

"Wait. Maybe we shouldn't. Don't we do this?"

"Lobby? Yes. The realtors' associations are the biggest lobbyists in the state."

They discussed if anyone would be mad they signed the petition. I told them that they should be aware that Taylor Oldroyd is strongly opposed to the initiative and in fact had mixed his Republican Party interests with his County Realtor Association position and gotten signature gatherers kicked out from in front of the Home Expo. I also explained SB 275 and the GOP plan to call people after the fact and convince them they should remove their names from the petition because it is anti-Mormon.

"So yes. If this gets enough signatures to get on the ballot, you probably will get a call from Taylor Oldroyd."

"Listen. These are both good. But we're both new in the profession."

"Yea. We can't afford to get on the wrong side of Taylor right now."

I told them it was sad, but I understood that they didn't want to risk their livelihoods. I explained the rest of the leadership arguments about supposed loss of free speech, invasion of privacy, and their twisting to pull the anti-Mormon stuff out of the bill, and why I thought they were good provisions that improved the political process. They both said they agreed, but didn't want to antagonize Oldroyd. I thanked them and sent them home with information to give to others they knew.

I spoke with some other realtors I knew about the incident, and they laughed. They explained that Taylor is not even a realtor, but merely their hired gun to lobby and administrate.

(I hope some of you comment, but I may not respond for a couple days. It's not you; it's me. I'll respond when I can in a few days.)

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Utahns for Ethical Government and Fair Boundaries initiatives -- Utah County SOS

This post is short (for me). Please read my request for help at the end.

I support both the Utahns for Ethical Government and Fair Boundaries initiatives. The deadline for signatures for both is April 15th. I also support the citizen initiative process. Local politicians talk the "We the people" talk when dealing with the federal government, but become downright defensive when confronted with that same reality on the state level--that their authority is derived completely from the people they represent.

Article I, Section 2 of the Utah State Constitution.
All political power is inherent in the people;

Article VI, Section 1
of the Utah State Constitution.
(1) The Legislative power of the State shall be vested in:
(a) a Senate and House of Representatives which shall be designated the Legislature of the State of Utah; and
(b) the people of the State of Utah
as provided in Subsection (2).
(2) (a) (i) The legal voters of the State of Utah, in the numbers, under the conditions, in the manner, and within the time provided by statute, may:
(A) initiate any desired legislation and cause it to be submitted to the people for adoption upon a majority vote of those voting
on the legislation, as provided by statute;

State legislators constantly use a false example to make their cause seem just. "California is bad! If we make laws by initiative, we will end up liberal and bankrupt like California! Honest!"

It is faulty, ego-driven logic to argue that passing any citizen initiative will turn Utah into California, yet I have seen this argument both in print and in person from legislators. It's silly, shallow electioneering just like sticking a picture of Ted Kennedy or Barack Obama in a commercial about a political opponent and shouting "Ooga booga!" The legislators should represent us to the best of their ability, not protect their power and act like their wisdom is irreplaceable.

The legislature has exercised their procedural authority to make getting the citizens' voice on the ballot via initiative almost impossible. The signatures of 10% of all Utah voters must be gathered, including 10% out of the individual State Senate Districts. Only widespread active advocacy can succeed.

So here's my point tonight. The head folks at both Utahns for Ethical Government and Fair Boundaries are necessarily putting on a confident face. With only 2 weeks left until the April 15th deadline (which the legislature arbitrarily moved from June until April in retaliation after the citizens voted down the voucher bill...SB 54 sponsored by a Democratic senator and Republican Kevin Garn in the House), I think the threat of not gathering enough signatures is greater than the threat of initiative opponents knowing which districts to target--they'll know after April 15th anyway.

The difficulty does not lie in the message or the bill itself--it lies in apathy. Most voters have still not heard of either initiative. Not enough of those supportive of the concepts of the initiatives have signed them or volunteered to gather more signatures. I can speak from personal knowledge that the signature totals for both petitions in the Utah County Senate Districts are not going to pass unless more people volunteer to get one packet worth of 20 signatures immediately.

That's my plea. Get a signature packet from either or better yet, both of the initiative organizations, and get 20 signatures in the next week. There are contact people on both websites who can get you signature packets.

Here are the contact links for Utahns for Ethical Government and Fair Boundaries.

We need fast, low-hanging fruit from every neighborhood in the Senate Districts of Senator Madsen, Stephenson, Valentine, Dayton, Bramble, and Hinkins. There are a lot of people supportive of putting ethics reform and fair political redistricting on the ballot that just need to be asked. If you are politically interested enough to be reading this blog, then you know 10-20 people among your family, friends, and neighbors that would sign the petitions. The active volunteers have already gotten the signatures of their neighbors and are doing the tough stuff door-to-door or standing outside public places. That is rewarding and effective (In my experience, 75-80% of those who will listen to explanations of the initiatives sign.), but slow. 50 people gathering 20 signatures each from their circle of friends is what is needed.

Utah County residents, please just make one phone call to the contact person for the initiatives. Spend a couple hours in the next two weeks and gather 20 signatures. Determine whether inspiration or guilt is more effective in your particular case, and consider me sending you whichever is required. I think both are merited for these causes to improve our state government.


Monday, March 29, 2010

CEU affiliating with USU, UVSC becomes UVU, and the lack of community colleges in Utah's Higher Education system

I'm very, very frustrated that Governor Herbert signed SB 275 into law, but I'll get back to the ethics initiative tomorrow. I just want to write a quick post because of a Tribune editorial dealing with higher education in Utah. This editorial just about catches what I have been feeling since UVSC became UVU a couple years ago. There are pros and cons about increasing the number of universities in the state, but I feel the negative aspects are often ignored.

Utah Valley really did need a university more focused on locals than BYU, but it also needs a community college. University status means increased prestige (everyone around here was and is very excited by the upgrade), increased local opportunities for postgraduate degrees, and the expansion of other professional degree programs. However, it inevitably cuts out some students and the community college focus and brings greater costs as more is offered and more professors are required to teach more diverse and specialized courses. UVU currently has a high number of adjunct professors and graduate students teaching classes and teaches a high number of remedial courses. Tuition for those classes and all classes is going up and there is and will continue to be friction between the old community college mission and the new university mission. Not because either is wrong, but because it's hard to provide both at the same institution.

As the Tribune editorial said, Salt Lake Community College fills an important niche. And "niche" is probably the wrong word when SLCC has the highest enrollment in the state with all of its campuses. I personally know many local students who could benefit from a lower cost alternative to UVU completely focused on teaching.

I support UVU. I think the demand for university level education was there and it fulfills a huge need. What we really need is another community college in Utah Valley to complement UVU. I think such an institution would both attract many students not enrolled in college classes and siphon off some of UVU's huge numbers to a 2-year program more appropriate for their level--which would only help UVU in my opinion, in terms of growth costs and mission. And that's where I have no solutions, only wishful thinking. Where would we possibly scrape up the money to found a new state college when our current higher ed. and K-12 systems are stretched to the breaking point? I just don't know. But I seriously think that is what is needed to meet our community's needs right now, let alone the needs associated with the huge projected population growth in the county in the following decades.

Comments? Suggestions? Creative funding solutions?


Thursday, March 25, 2010

The Utah County Republican Party made $22,000 of anti-healthcare money, but will use it to fight the ethics reform initiative

The Daily Herald reports that the Utah County GOP made more than $22,000 in donations Tuesday night at the local precinct caucuses. There were record numbers of attendees at most precincts (3-4 times the 2008 total in my precinct), and many were attending their first caucus to express their displeasure at the Washington establishment and the passing of the comprehensive Democrat healthcare bill. Utah County Republican Chair,Taylor Oldroyd, affirmed the same reasoning in the article above:
"It's frustration with what's going on in Washington," Oldroyd said. "The health care debate -- perfect timing for the Republican Party."

That passion was readily channeled into record donations. Unfortunately, if any of those new caucus goers pay attention to what their money will be used for, they will find that a large chunk of that money will not be used on anything remotely related to national healthcare, combatting the Democratic Party, or even Bob Bennett's Senate race. Instead, it will be used to promote and print distortions and untruths about the ethics initiative and those gathering signatures to place it on the ballot. The county and state parties have announced that they will expend resources both to persuade petition signers to remove their names (Ironically, their plan is to use fabricated and misinterpreted "secret" effects of the proposal in order to accuse the signature gathers of deceiving those who signed the petition.) and to campaign against the measure if it makes it onto the ballot in November.

So the party leadership and incumbent legislators will channel the enthusiasm and grassroots energy of these new political participants to protect the position of incumbents, to protect their uncapped source of "no strings attached," multi-thousand dollar donations from lobbyists and special interest groups, and to allow Howard Stephenson to continue to earn his living by advancing his clients' causes in the legislature. National politics makes everyone cynical because everyone hears about it. State and county politics make everyone cynical who is paying attention.

Please go read up on the Utahns for Ethical Government voter initiative. Then use the contact information on the site to sign a physical petition and make a difference.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Utah County GOP ethics purity pledge and false info about the LDS church distributed at caucus meetings

The Tribune reported on the plan of the Utah County Republican Party to require their candidates to sign a form stating whether they had signed the Utahns for Ethical Government voter initiative seeking to put an extensive ethics reform law on the ballot in November. I called it weird in my other headline, but I actually am coming to expect stuff like this from leadership and incumbents protecting their turf. The whole opposition campaign is being approached dishonestly. I hope some brave soul or two will be brave enough to fill out the form and proudly own at the county convention that they signed the ethics initiative as well as the Fair Boundaries initiative. In the article, I underlined the responses of the Republican Party Chairs from Davis and Weber Counties where they explain the initiative is not “against the Republican Party” or a litmus test in their conventions as signatures were even being gather at the caucus meetings.

The Utah County Republican Party anti-ethics offensive extended to distributing a misleading flyer to every single caucus attendee in the valley. It contained similar charges and the web address to this site full of misrepresentations and outright lies about the effects of the ethics initiative, but the caucus flyer was significantly toned down in terms of language. The first false charge, that local leaders of the LDS church will be prevented from running for political office, was couched in the caucus flyer in terms of “some even say it reaches so far as to limit LDS leaders from serving.” The website comes right out and claims the initiative will prevent LDS leaders from running for office. No local LDS leaders such as bishops, stake presidencies, Relief Society presidents, etc. have anything to do with controlling the supposed paid lobbyists employed by the LDS church. Various legislators were offended at times this session when others “misinterpreted” or twisted the words or provisions of their bills to mean things other than what was intended. The incumbent protection crew is now trying to twist the definitions of the initiative to claim horrible collateral damage to freedom and justice. (I will post more in a few days about other false claims made by the website.) It is ironic that they are using untruthful techniques to undermine a bill that they claim will lead to “Those who purposefully make fictitious or groundless complaints…”

The anti-Mormon claim is an intentional ramping up of the GOP’s strategy to persuade people to remove their names from the initiative. They hit the caucus attendees—many of whom were first time attendees this year who knew nothing about the current initiatives or history of ethics reform battles in the legislature—with an opening salvo. If the initiative gathers enough signatures by April 15th, the county and state GOP will be contacting those who signed, especially registered Republicans, and telling them they were tricked by those dishonest volunteer signature gatherers who didn’t tell them that this was an anti-Mormon attempt to allow liberals to take over the legislature. They will use the time granted by the unequal bill, SB 275, allowing them to run a signature removal campaign for one extra month after the required signatures are due to the county clerks.

The Utah legislative leadership and some Republican Party leadership are using dishonest arguments to derail a citizen initiative on ethics. In the last two years, they moved the signature gathering deadline from June 1st to April 15th claiming the clerks were overburdened, then showed that to be a false rationale by giving citizen initiative opponents (naturally the establishment since citizen initiatives are attempting to bypass the legislature) an extra month to try and convince initiative signers to have their signature removed. But, please… please… think of the poor clerks. Read the bills, read the legislature’s claims, read the websites of the initiatives themselves, and I think you will see the sad irony as the legislature proves its need for outside action through its own campaign to resist far-reaching ethics reform.

Tribune article on weird Utah County Republican plan to screen out candidates who support the ethics initiative


Utah County GOP wants candidates to declare stand on ethics initiative
Politics » Initiative official says, 'Ethics reform is a nonpartisan issue.'

By Cathy McKitrick

The Salt Lake Tribune
Updated: 03/24/2010 08:17:44 PM MDT

Utah County Republican leaders will ask each of their party candidates next week to fill out a form disclosing whether they signed petitions for a pending ethics reform initiative in what some view as an odd type of pre-election screening.

The expansive initiative, sponsored by Utahns for Ethical Government, served as the goad for lawmakers to pass several bills in the recent 45-day session, including legislation to form the state's first independent ethics commission.

But GOP legislators and the state Republican Party criticize the initiative as over-reaching and poorly drafted.

"We've already decided that as a party we oppose the [UEG] initiative," said Utah County GOP Chairman Taylor Oldroyd. "So we're asking candidates to declare one way or the other."

The candidate form also asks candidates to pledge to support only Republicans running for office and, if elected, to maintain the highest standards of honesty, morality and integrity.

After a question about which, if any, parts of the party platform the hopeful disagrees with, the form inquires whether the candidate is a supporter of the ethics initiative.

The information will be tabulated in time for the county's April 24 convention, where delegates will cast votes to thin races with multiple contenders.

"There's a few that have a different opinion and that's fine," Oldroyd said. "We just feel the voters and delegates need to know."

So what if a candidate skips the declaration?

"There is no punishment for not signing, but delegates and voters may not view this favorably," Oldroyd said in an e-mail to The Salt Lake Tribune .

Dixie Huefner, UEG's communication director, puzzled over Utah County GOP's new requirement.

"It seems to be inconsistent with Republican values of freedom, choice and liberty," Huefner said. "I don't understand the narrowness of their view since ethics reform is a nonpartisan issue."

In Davis County -- as heavily Republican as Utah County -- candidates will not have to divulge their support or opposition to the ethics initiative.

"We just require that they register as a Republican," said Davis County GOP Chairwoman Shirley Bouwhuis.

"The initiative hasn't even come up here," Bouwhuis added. "Unless it's something against the Republican Party, we believe in freedom of choice."

Weber County Republicans also make no such inquiry of candidates.

"Absolutely not," said Weber GOP Chairman Matt Bell, noting that someone was gathering initiative signatures at his crowded caucus meeting Tuesday night.

"That's Utah County," Bell said. "They can do whatever they want."

Ethics legislation versus initiative

The citizens' initiative would create an independent ethics commission that holds an open hearing on any non-frivolous complaint. The Legislature's new panel conducts the entire screening process behind closed doors.

The initiative allows any three individuals to file an ethics complaint against a lawmaker. The new law allows two residents to lodge a complaint, but at least one must have firsthand knowledge of the alleged violation.

The initiative contains campaign caps. Utah is now one of four states lacking such limits.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Utah County GOP pushing for new speaker?

If you haven't seen the debate raging about the ridiculous standing ovation for Kevin Garn orchestrated by Dave Clark, here are some refreshers:

Standard Examiner

Daily Herald

And Holly on the Hill, whom I usually feel just repeats the party line, really hit the nail on the head in some great posts about Dave Clark and the legislature as a whole.
Here, here, and here.

As always, politics quickly resume after crisis. Brad Dee has already made it know he wants to be majority leader, but that's not the biggest political prize up for grabs. Dave Clark really screwed up with the "We want you back" and floating the idea for a couple days of Garn continuing in office. I think his being forced out as Speaker of the House is a real possibility when the House caucus huddles tonight and assigns blame.

Revealing quotes from this last link:

“I’m talking to folks afterward. They didn’t know [that she was underage]. They didn’t know they were naked, that he was married,” Rep. John Dougall, R-Highland, said of information learned later about Garn’s history. “When the Speaker stands up, you know, you stand up. That’s habit. Then it’s ‘What are we doing?’ ”

He said allowing the admission with a room full of people was manipulative.

“I feel like we were used as a prop to lend credence to the admission,” Dougall said.

I agree they were used as a prop, but that culture of unswerving support and good ol' boy network is why we need ethics reform--not necessarily this one instance of Garn's misdeeds.

People need to understand the culture. We clap a lot,” said Rep. Chris Herrod, R-Provo, who is also unhappy about the confession on the floor but was among the first to stand and applaud.

“You’ve got two minutes to process the information,” he said. “It shouldn’t have been done on the floor. I think everyone is in agreement with that. We were put in an awkward situation. What were we supposed to do?

How about show some of that same supposed spine you trumpeted in your "principled" crusade against the federal government Mr. Founding-Member-of-the-Patrick-Henry-Caucus? You'll attack nationally, but you will support a fellow state leader to the death, until your own conservative blogger, Holly Richardson, slaps you in the face and makes you realize this may affect your secure Republican position.

To quote the conclusion of my last post detailing the lack of principled governance about a specific bill:
I think this perspective helps better understand Dave Clark's comments about wanting Kevin Garn "back with us" and the standing ovation he received. Too many legislators instinctively and instantly rally to their own little club and defend it against all outsiders. Sign the voter initiatives for Fair Boundaries and ethics reform and take a larger step toward limiting conflicts of interest and money in our state legislature.

I sense in Holly's post and the Daily Herald editorial a push for some Utah County leadership and the Utah County legislators are being vocal about Clark embarrassing them and the legislature as a whole. Is the campaign on for a Utah County speaker?

Greg Hughes and Rebecca Lockhart were the most common Speaker Pro Tem's I saw during the session, but Hughes is more damaged than most by the Garn confession because he was one of the first teary huggers on the House floor. Brad Dee and Lockhart are the next two in line in House GOP leadership. Will Dee keep his claim staked on House Majority Leader, or eye the bigger prize? The Utah County contingent appear to be making a push for Lockhart or Dougall for speaker.

Think about that, and then go sign the ethics initiative petition.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

SB 188, Howard Stephenson sneaks provision into charter school bill specifically allowing conflicts of interest

At the end of my budget post last week, I mentioned that I generally have no beef with charter schools, but that I have problems with legislators using them for financial gain. Howard Stephenson sponsored a bill that could possibly reap direct financial benefits for sitting legislators and other influential GOP insiders on charter school boards. The most ethical full-time lobbyist on the hill--so ethical that he can earn his substantial living by being paid to advocate for laws that benefit his secret clients--yet NOT have any important conflicts of interest as a legislator, pushed this bill which dealt with another substantial policy issue, removing the cap on charter school enrollment.

SB 188. The frustrating part is that those in charge of acting as gatekeepers were asleep at the wheel. The executive summary of the bill mentions on Line 20 that it "modifies conflict of interest provisions applicable to charter school officers."

Click on the link above and then listen to the file, Senate Education Committee 2/24, of the Senate Education Committee hearing for the bill. The relevant sections are about 17-18 minutes long, but the relevant part to this post is only about a minute and 5 seconds long, from 4:00 minutes into the audio to 5:05. Senator Stephenson has a staff lady basically read the executive summary and explain it to the committee, and she explains the basics of allowing conflicts of interest in that minute. Following this, the State Superintendent of Public Schools, Larry Shumway, (whom I generally like and applaud for his ability to work with legislators), some State Charter School Board members, and the legislators get sidetracked off onto a minor issue: whether the new non-voting member of the State School Board should be called a delegate instead of a non-voting member. They chew on this over and over and never even talk about the principal issue of the bill, whether the enrollment cap should be lifted, let alone the conflict of interest provisions or committee to review charter school loan requests. I have reservations about lifting the cap purely because of funding considerations, but charter schools are serving a lot of children well.

Next, you can click on the link to the floor debate in the Senate (scroll down to near the bottom of Part 2 and look for SB 188). It's 12 minutes long with another minute for voting. I watched the video; I'm assuming the audio is the same length. Once again, Senator Stephenson gives the short explanation of the conflict of interest provision from 1:35 to 1:57. The Senate debates about the "non-voting delegate" amendment for the majority of the time and the bill passes without one question being asked about the other provisions. Does no Senator see any problem with this?! Now I can understand that possibly this was dealt with extensively in interim, but I know all of the legislators who talk so much about poorly informed people signing voting initiatives did not read this bill. I don't think Senator Stephenson was even very familiar with it in committee. They just trust each other because they are all so trustworthy and stuff. I blogged about this last year as well.

Now to the floor debate in the House (The SB 188 video is about halfway through Part 2). At first I was happy with Representative Lockhart's presentation. She first moves a technical amendment. From about 1:30 to 2:30, she gives a much better summary of SB 188. She focuses on the change in the charter school enrollment cap and lists some other provisions. However, she curiously omits both the conflict of interest change and and the new non-voting member of the State School Board that the first two debates fixated upon. Representatives Allen and Cosgrove at least ask some questions about other sections of the bill. Small little bravo as it is also obvious they are not familiar with the bill and haven't read it. No one else asks a question. At about 6:30, Speaker of the House, Dave Clark, says there are no other questions and turns the bill over to Rep. Lockhart for final summation. At this point, when debate has been cut off, she mentions those last two items she omitted from her initial explanation. At 6:35, she brings up the new position on the State School Board. From 7:00 to 7:17 she "explains" the conflict of interest provisions. Here's my rough transcription:
"And then there's also at the end of the bill some issues having to do with members of charter school boards and potential conflicts of interest and how they deal with those conflicts of interest as it relates to their individual schools."
Whether on purpose or not, this is a dishonest description. The relevant part of the bill is on lines 270-282. The original text of that section of law read:
A charter school officer or a relative of a charter school officer may not have a financial interest in a contract or other transaction involving a charter school in which the charter school officer serves as a charter school officer.
There was NO potential for conflicts of interest. The new bill text reads as follows (The underlined parts represent the additions or changes being made to the current law.):
270 (3) (a) [A] Except as provided in Subsections (3)(b) and (3)(c), a charter school officer
271 or a relative of a charter school officer may not have a financial interest in a contract or other
272 transaction involving a charter school in which the charter school officer serves as a charter
273 school officer.
274 (b) If a charter school's governing board considers entering into a contract or executing
275 a transaction in which a charter school officer or a relative of a charter school officer has a
financial interest, the charter school officer shall:
277 (i) disclose the financial interest, in writing, to the other charter school officers;
278 (ii) submit the contract or transaction decision to the charter school's governing board
279 for the approval, by majority vote, of the charter school's governing board;
280 (iii) abstain from voting on the issue; and
281 (iv) be absent from any meeting when the contract or transaction is being considered
282 and determined.
The bill doesn't "deal" with potential conflicts of interest; it puts them into code!! The board members of a charter school used to not be able to make money off of the school, and now they can. OK, they can't be part of the meetings to decide. But did any legislator think about what it would be like to work closely in a policy group (like the legislature or a charter school board--management being respectively the executive branch and the school administration) with someone who provides a service, omit them from a meeting on purchasing that service, and then have to tell them at the next meeting that their company did not provide as good a service as a competitor? They didn't think there would be any undue pressure there? They honestly thought this was a section of code that needed changing to better serve the charter school students of Utah? Or did they even know about it?

Following this non-explanation, Speaker Clark immediately opened the unanimous voting in favor of the bill.

Did no one in the House even read the executive summary?! Even if Rep. Lockhart didn't bring it up until it was too late to comment on it, was no one curious about the conflict of interest section? Couldn't that provision have been easily amended out, leaving the actual meat of the bill? Let's place unprovable bets on what percentage of the legislators in both houses had read the bill at this point. I would feel confident saying under 10%.

The Trib's education reporter, Lisa Schencker, who does a sporadic job of in-depth coverage as opposed to the other papers who only cover controversial school legislation, covered the story both in committee and after final passage. She reported the main point about the removal of the charter school enrollment cap, but just got a quote from Stephenson the first time, repeated it the second time, and didn't dig any deeper.

I'd love to hear any justification for allowing conflicts of interest at public charter schools. I'm serious. Is there some wonderful service out there currently not being provided to the charter school students that some charter school board member will now provide? Is this wonderful service worth allowing someone's close colleagues to vote on whether he/she personally profits from their position of influence at a charter school? Who thinks Senator Stephenson knows at least one person by name who just happens to be a legislator or GOP donor and will immediately profit from this bill? Maybe even someone who contributes secretly to the Utah Taxpayer's Association?

1. So, please be angry at the end result of a tiny section of this bill expressly permitting conflicts of interest in charter school board expenditures.

2. Please be angry at the lack of review given this bill through a committee hearing and three separate floor hearings. There were a total of two questions asked not about the member/delegate semantics debate. This criticism does not just include legislators, but education representatives, including Superintendent Shumway.

3. And really think about the broader issue this one example represents of how the legislature works. A registered corporate lobbyist with secret clients sits as a Senator in our state legislature. He has frequently misrepresented his bills in committee and floor presentations (Example 2009, Example 2008) and abused legislative process (Example 2010) in order to push his pro-corporate, anti-school, money-making agenda.

This same Senator passed a bill, SB 275, allowing voter initiative proponents--almost exclusively establishment Republicans who oppose sharing power--to have an extra month to go door-to-door claiming that "deceptive signature-gathering practices" result in "lemon laws." He and the rest of the legislative leadership claim that no one is reading the initiative due to "half-truths and misrepresentations" and they don't know about the secret, horrible provisions that are unfair to the virtuous legislators.

Think about this post and think about their position. Be angry that the legislators reflexively trust each other and excuse their repeated lack of proper review of laws (Self-admitted example from 2007--this link is to a really long post full of great examples and quotes, relating both to bad legislative decisions and their attack on voter initiatives and referendums. It's worth the read.) while constantly insulting the public who are easily fooled by "hucksters."

I think this perspective helps better understand Dave Clark's comments about wanting Kevin Garn "back with us" and the standing ovation he received. Too many legislators instinctively and instantly rally to their own little club and defend it against all outsiders. Sign the voter initiatives for Fair Boundaries and ethics reform and take a larger step toward limiting conflicts of interest and money in our state legislature.

Junk Mail

OK, an easy post to get me going. I received a call from that national group giving the anti-Bennett push poll a couple weeks ago. It was fun and easy. The peon phone survey person seemed surprised that I was not supporting Bennett and already knew when and where my caucus meeting will be. I thought about telling them despite my agreement with the general premise of the poll, I thought the wording was biased and dumb...but figured it wouldn't make a difference anyway.

Then I got a glossy, 2-sided, color ad from Energy Solutions telling me that if I only listened to their science, I would support blended nuclear waste, international waste, and DU coming into my state. They also are regulated by lots of organizations they claim and are not determined to ignore Governor Herbert by bringing in that diverted DU in a few months.

Then just yesterday, I got THREE exciting pieces of political waste. First, a glossy color card from Bennett all about he alone has held off the onslaught of Obama's socialized medicine. Very noble. And a great, but very amusing photo of some doctor from Draper with a manic grin. I think he will get ribbing from his neighbors for that photo.

Second, a big glossy poster from Mike Lee with flags, the capital dome, kids at a playground, kid holding flag and mom's hand, and Mike's big mug. His big mailer had one other feature which I appreciated, but sadly think will be wasted on the masses. It had tons and tons of text. I've heard him speak in person and admit that I didn't read all of it, but I actually appreciate it. I want documentation of what a politician believes or promises. I'm sick of soundbites. But, the sad part is that my first thought upon unfolding the mailer was that no one was going to read all this. Oh well.

And finally, ANOTHER letter from Bennett. In this non-color, regular letter, I learned that all the cool mayors are voting for Bennett and I should too. Oooooh, Tom Dolan is supporting Bennett. I better change my attitude.

I'm hoping for at least two a day in the next ten days leading up to caucus meetings. I should get a scanner.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Budget debate resolves...Bravo Gary Herbert and Ron Bigelow! Carl Wimmer tries reverse psychology...

The budget battle over Howard Stephenson's mini-omnibus policy insert at the last second finally resolved late Thursday night. Charter school funding is still a difficult issue to which I don't have the answers, and good legislative process is important to me whether I agree with a bill or not.

One thing I am pleasantly surprised but also confused by is the increase of WPU back up to current levels...along with the explanation that the state is still not funding growth. There's something I'm not quite getting. The original plan was for the WPU to go down about $90. Each new or continuing student would receive the same funding, but a lesser amount than last year to reflect the higher numbers caused by growth. If each student next year is funded $2577 via WPU, then districts will receive increased funding for each new student...or in other words, the growth in student numbers will be funded. Lisa Schenker reported above that "Districts will absorb that lack of funds in other areas." The principal state funding mechanism to the districts is the WPU. I don't understand which state expenditures the districts can cut millions of dollars from without impacting WPU.

Bravo to Gary Herbert and Ron Bigelow, as well as most of the House, for their firm roles in preventing any last minute strong-arming by the legislators who were valuing their pet project over transparency and rational policy discussion. Rep. Bigelow gave us the "telling it like it is" quote of the debate: "If there is any bill in this session that has subverted, bypassed and held our process to be the worst process, it is this bill."

Howard Stephenson cleverly, but falsely framed the debate in two ways in order to spin things his way. First, I explained in my last post why his "phantom student" argument, a new tactic this year, is a fundamental lie in dealing with locally assessed property tax. The district does not have significant marginal costs when adding or losing an individual student; property tax funds are not distributed per student. Stephenson repeated this meme several times.

Second, Stephenson claimed that there is money going to districts when students leave for a charter school that would otherwise go into WPU (the main state funding mechanism), and that's why it's important to shift some of the local money. Unless Senator Stephenson is talking about some obscure pot of money somewhere that only he knows about, that just isn't true. State funds are distributed per student via the WPU. For each student, the district gets the designated amount of money. Local property tax is voted on by the residents of a specific geographical area and then spent on overall programs which benefit large numbers of students at once. At no point does it follow around individual students; at no point are there "phantom students" as students move in and out of the district; and at no point can these locally approved funds be diverted into the statewide fund for WPU allotments. So what is Senator Stephenson talking about?

The bill bounced back and forth several times as the Senate would not agree to have the charter school funding changes deleted from the bill. To listen to the first debate Thursday morning when the House substituted the bill and took out the charter funding change, click here. (This is a list of the debates on all the bills that morning. The easiest way to find this debate is to scroll down to the Part 2 subheading, and then count 9 links above it to the SB0002S01 debate.) You can listen to or watch the conversation--I think watching often makes it easier to understand who is talking. Here are the highlights to pay attention to and the time in the debate they happen:

Rep. Bigelow gives an excellent 4-5 minute summation of the procedural and policy concerns with the original bill while proposing the substitute bill. He also explains the inherent difficulties of applying local funds to charter schools and how the substitute bill reflects the work of the education subcommittees.

Rep. Craig Frank declares his willingness to take care of pet charter school funding via bad process. "This year is the time" regardless of whether my colleague purposely prevented the proposal from being vetted.

The weirdest comment of the debate. Rep. Carl Wimmer stood and disagreed on the substitute based on "process." He wasn't necessarily voting because of the content of the bill, but the "process." He then claimed that Stephenson's original 16-hour-old bill has been vetted, but the "changes" in the substitute dating back to the education subcommittee's recommendations had not been. Therefore, black is white, up is down, and he voted against the substitute bill.

This is the money quote from above by Ron Bigelow. He acknowledged Wimmer's outspoken concern for process and then declared "If there is any bill in this session that has subverted, bypassed and held our process to be the worst process, it is this bill."

The motion to substitute passed a few minutes later by a count of something close to 50 yeas to 20 nay votes. The substituted bill then passed 71-4.

After Gary Herbert personally aided a compromise which took out the "monkey wrench" of the surprise charter funding, a final substitute bill was agreed upon and passed Thursday night by both houses. I didn't have time to fully comprehend the different changes in this substitute bill, but it appeared to be very reasonable upon first inspection.